Under the Dome

Environmental law rollback heads to McCrory

A controversial bill to gut a decades-old environmental protection law is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk after the Senate and House passed a final version of the measure Thursday.

The State Environmental Policy Act dates to 1971 and requires environmental impact studies and public input for government-funded projects. Backers of the change say the law is outdated and creates unnecessary costs.

Under the bill, only projects involving more than $10 million in public funds, or that disturb more than 10 acres of publicly owned lands would be subject to environmental assessments.

The House disagreed with changes made when the bill went through the Senate, so a conference committee was appointed to hash out the differences. The committee’s recommendation for the final bill passed the House 74-40 Thursday. Minutes later, the Senate voted 41-8 to approve the legislation and send it to McCrory.

Environmentalists are calling on McCrory to veto the bill and leave the law unchanged.

“The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved,” said Molly Diggins, director of the N.C. Sierra Club. “Now the question is: Will Gov. McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”

Projects typically falling under SEPA include wastewater treatment plants, county landfills, marine property or water basin transfer projects.

The conference committee’s only change to the bill deletes a definition of the phrase “direct environmental impact” that was added in the Senate. Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, said that clarification was part of the reason she’d initially voted for the bill.

“We’re down to almost little or nothing, and I just worry that we’re taking any relevance out of having a state environmental policy,” she said.